Time to Make Some Noise

Deborah A. Mans
Baykeeper & Executive Director
NY/NJ Baykeeper

Not many people give a second thought to what happens after they flush the toilet. And, not many people realize that what they just flushed down the toilet is finding its way, untreated, into a local waterway due to combined sewers that become overloaded with stormwater and wastewater during rain events and bypass the wastewater treatment plant. This is because they simply cannot access and enjoy their local rivers and bays to begin with.

The history of industrialization and privatization of our Northern New Jersey waterfront has led to a disconnect between our communities and local waterways. If people cannot see the problem, they are very unlikely to demand a solution. But within this problem there also lies a tremendous opportunity to awaken the public and spur action that can address both our aging infrastructure and improve quality of life in New Jersey’s urban communities.

Innovative green infrastructure projects can address, at least in part, the overloading of our combined sewer systems while providing green space and community gardens in park-deprived neighborhoods. Green infrastructure, such as rain gardens and bioswales, can reduce localized flooding and heat island impacts. As an added benefit, local job training initiatives can be implemented as part of the installation of the projects.

These types of local projects serve as great educational tools that help consumers better understand the interplay between their own activities and the larger water and natural infrastructure system. Given the tight fiscal constraints faced by municipal and state governments, it has always been easy to delay much-needed investments in our aging wastewater infrastructure because, quite simply, there is not a large public outcry over the issue. Making stronger connections between communities and their rivers through increased green infrastructure projects and awareness of the impact of pollution on their ability to use and enjoy local waterways is needed. Without a constituency demanding improvements, there will be no accountability for elected officials and agency personnel to roll up their sleeves and develop a long-term strategy for not only addressing the issue, but also funding it.

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